North Coast Journal Weekly link to homepageIn the News

Sept. 4, 2003


Boom Time:
Its troubled past largely forgotten,
Shelter Cove is going gangbusters


by Hank Sims

SUSPICIOUS BLAZE... A 4-month-old Fortuna infant died, and his 17-month-old brother was severely injured, when a suspicious fire destroyed half of their Perras Court duplex, the Sheriff's Office reports. Their mother had escaped through a window, and was treated and released from a local hospital, but the two children were removed from the burning building by members of the Fortuna Fire Department shortly after midnight Saturday and airlifted to a burn center in the Bay Area. The baby died Saturday afternoon. The county's Arson Task Force is investigating. Meanwhile, a 21-year-old man was stabbed around 2 a.m. Monday morning on Fortuna's Main Street, in an altercation between two groups of young men. All suspects were "wearing blue sports jerseys and blue bandanas," the Fortuna Police said. Hmm, gangs perhaps?

HARVEST SEASON HEATS UP... With late August marking the beginning of the annual season of paranoia and violence in the county's alternative agricultural production zones, tragedy struck Southern Humboldt last week. The body of Sean Thomas-Butler Akselsen, 18, was found near Briceland, dead of a gunshot wound. A private investigator retained by Akselsen's family believes that the murder is most likely the result of a drug deal gone bad, and the Sheriff's Office wants to interview three African-American males seen around the Garberville-Redway area the weekend of Aug. 23-24. The three were said to be traveling in a dark green, late `80s model Chevy Camaro.... Meanwhile, SoHum medical marijuana activist Chris Giauque, last seen on Spy Rock Road three weeks ago, was still missing, and his family and the Sheriff's Office were still hoping for people to come forward with information that could help them find him. In a bittersweet footnote to the case, a federal judge ruled last week that an ounce of marijuana the Sheriff's Office confiscated from Giauque in 1999 should be returned to him... In a further pot-related development, the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting announced that it had seized more than 10,000 plants since the beginning of August, including a large indoor bust in the China Creek area last week. Oh, and a hashish laboratory in Arcata exploded.

TOWER TRIUMPH... The Arcata Bottom's sizable contingent of anti-cell tower activists scored a big victory when Cal-North Wireless announced that it had dropped plans to build an antenna tower in the neighborhood. The company's decision followed a less-than-favorable hearing at the Board of Supervisors, where swing supe Jimmy Smith joined John Woolley and Jill Geist in voting to deny immediate approval of the tower. Next up: U.S. Cellular's plan for a tower on Sun Valley Floral Farms property (For a good primer on the whole cell phone issue, even if we do say so ourselves, see our Aug. 14 cover story, "Cellular Division").

OUCH... The ever-busy Lindsey McWilliams, county elections officer, said that his office was in receipt of a new batch of petitions -- these on a proposed state initiative that would make it easier for the state Legislature to pass new taxes. If word comes down from the state, as it could at any moment, the county's elections staff will have to verify the 14,000 signatures on the petitions. On top of that, McWilliams heard from Gallegos recall people that they were close to completing their goal of 11,000 signatures. McWilliams fears that the way things are going, these two things may happen simultaneously -- putting the elections office into "a world of hurt," as he put it.

GET OUT THOSE SHOVELS... The Federal Highway Administration awarded $72 million in emergency funds to the effort to rebuild Highway 101 near Confusion Hill. The perilous stretch of road slid out several times last winter, leading to long delays and, in a few cases, complete closure of the highway. The only hitch: The entire project, which would likely involve moving the stretch of highway to the other side of the canyon, will have to be completed by 2008, or the federal money disappears.

CALPINE was back in the area, talking with the Greater Eureka Chamber of Commerce about its plans to build a liquefied natural gas entrepot and power plant somewhere on Humboldt Bay. The Environmental Protection and Information Center pledged to fight the project.

LAWRENCE WIESNER, the Santa Rosa accountant who lost to Mike Thompson in last year's 1st District congressional race, is going to be touring the lower Klamath this Saturday. According to a press release, the Republican is "concerned about the hysteria of some of the so-called environmentalists who through the application of pseudo-science have caused grave injury to the farmers in the Klamath Basin." Evidently Wiesner is gearing up to challenge Thompson again next year -- but why is he stumping for Oregon votes?

COASTAL COMMISSION MEETS... The September meeting of the California Coastal Commission takes place at the Eureka Inn, Wednesday, Sept. 10 through Friday, Sept. 12. Since the commission only makes it to Humboldt County once a year, the Eureka Chamber of Commerce will hold a meet-and-greet dinner for commissioners at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at O-H's Townhouse in Eureka. Cost: $35 per person. Call for reservations by Sept. 4.

CORRECTION... A story in the Aug. 21 issue misstated the professional position held by David A. Neumann. He is the executive director of the National Partnership for Immunization.

Boom Time
Its troubled past largely forgotten, Shelter Cove is going gangbusters

(Part One in Aug. 28 edition)


Map of Humboldt County showing location of Eureka, Shelter Cove and Pacific OceanLinda Yates, real estate broker for Lost Coast Properties, remembers that "it was very quiet here" when she moved to Shelter Cove from Lake Tahoe in 1966. "There were hundred of lots for sale," she notes. "And it took me almost a year to make my first sale.

"It really did not take off until 1998, and then `99 was very busy; 2000 I would call a feeding frenzy. People were just coming in and wanting to write offers. At times you didn't even have to go out and show property. There were so many people coming in and out, looking at real estate, wanting maps, listings of lots. What a contrast to `96 when there were just 30 homes on the market, and priced around $100,000. Now, it is difficult to find a home under $300,000."

She adds, "Lots have basically doubled in price, especially view lots. There are a lot of nice building lots still on the market in the $20,000 to $35,000 price range."

From January through July of this year Humboldt County has issued 12 building permits for new homes in Shelter Cove, with a total valuation of nearly $1.2 million.

The word is out all over the Cove -- it's boom time.

Not perfect

Shelter Cove is not without its problems.

Approximately 15 percent of the mammoth subdivision's lots -- from 400 to 500 parcels -- are unbuildable because the original developers sited them on overly steep terrain. Many of those properties are routinely put up for public auction by the county because their owners haven't paid property taxes in five years or longer. Some are currently being offered for sale on the Internet, where an unsuspecting buyer, dazzled by the spectacular photos of the area, could very well end up with an unusable piece of land (see "The Shelter Cove Saga, Part I: From land scam to popular resort," Aug. 28).

Be that as it may, the vast majority of the lots are usable -- and an increasing number are getting built on.

"Last year we were having this increase in building permits," says Roger Boedecker, president of the Shelter Cove Resort Improvement District (RID). "I am surprised that the growth continues into this year."

The Resort Improvement District, which functions as a city council does in incorporated cities, serves 383 paying customers. It picked up 32 new customers last year. "And we are at a rate this year of making the same figure," said Boedecker. "I would anticipate in the year 2015, if we continue at the same rate, we will be pushing 1,000 developed properties."

Looking ahead, Boedecker sees there might be problems down the road to maintain the adequate infrastructure of sewage treatment, water supply, fire service and utilities. "If we continue to have building as we're having now," he said, "we could be approaching some limits in 10 years."

Changes in works

Meanwhile, however, the district is pushing ahead with plans for a children's playground in the community center, an adjunct to the fire station.

Some Cove old-timers marvel at the community's present growth boom.

Herb Zastrow at his desk"Ten years ago, it was a very peaceful place," muses Herb Zastrow [photo at right] , a bustling 81-year-old who, with his wife, Chris, manages the Shelter Cove Motor Inn. "The town was hard to get to. We didn't have many visitors. There were three motels here then [five now and a sixth under construction], and the most units they had was 10. In those early days it was nip and tuck to get people back in here, because nobody knew about the Lost Coast at that time, and I mean, it WAS lost. I think basically what has really put us on the map in the last four, five years is the computer -- our ads on the Internet."

Zastrow, who likes to remind you that the Shelter Cove Motor Inn has 16 guest units (more than any other motel in town), will tell you: "We're getting more and more business all the time. We're full probably 40 percent of the weekdays, and on the weekends we're booked solid."

What happens in the winter? "Very slow," he admits -- although people do come on weekends, "to see the stormy seas."

Zastrow, who previously lived in Shasta, has been coming down to Shelter Cove on fishing visits for as long as 30 years. "Lots were very reasonable at that time," he says. And they were still that way when he took over the motel management in 1993.

"But all of a sudden it's taken an upswing," he observes. "People coming in, looking for a place where they can retire. And prices have probably doubled in the last 10 years.

"We have everything here than you can ask for -- except that we don't have doctors, no dentists, you don't have supermarkets, no drug store. We have the airport [landing strip], which is 3,200 feet long. And we have access to Mercy Air, out of Redding, which will fly over here and take you to the hospital."

The airport runway, incidentally, also comes under RID's management.

"The air strip is a day strip only," explains Richard Culp, general manager of the Resort Improvement District. "It's for pilots who come in with their own fuel to leave with. We have no fuel, we have no lights, no instrumentation, it's often foggy, and we have nobody to call to see if the weather's OK."

Past tragedy

Shelter Cove has good reason to take such precautions on the airport. The memories are still vivid today -- 32 years later -- of the tragic crash of a twin-engine DC-3 airliner as it tried to take off from the runway, and wound up in the ocean. It was one of those routine flights into Shelter Cove of salesmen hawking lots in the budding resort. Seventeen people were killed in the crash, and seven, remarkably enough, survived.

That 1971 tragedy, of course, ended flights of the DC-3s or bigger aircraft.

Realtor Frances Aldridge recalls: "We were there when that plane crashed. My best friend was killed on that plane."

Love of place

But what one hears so frequently from Shelter Cove residents is not about the problems, but about their love of the place.

Diana Cistaro sitting in officeDiana Cistaro [photo at left] , who together with her partner David Smollet, owns the Marina motel and a first-class restaurant that overlooks the bay from which fishing boats are launched, tells me: "I fell in love with the place, coming over the hill. Shelter Cove is one of the most interesting places you could ever imagine.

"So many different people from so many different places. And it seems like at times people get a little bent with each other. They may not talk to each other for five years, but if there's a crisis here, everybody pulls together."

Cistaro came to the Cove from Sacramento 11 years ago. She was married at the time, and the two of them bought property to build on the day after their arrival.

"Our house looks like a little house that kids built," she says with a laugh. "In fact, my ex-husband and his lady have the apartment underneath where I live. They live in Stockton, but they come and visit." Offhand, she mentions that she found the perfect wife for her ex. "A beautiful woman, and they are absolutely the perfect match."

She finds everything in Shelter Cove dramatic, and certainly that's the word for the winters here.

"They can get really severe," she says. "We have the best of the best and the worst of the worst when it comes to weather. I've seen some hellacious weather here -- when the wind exceeds 70 miles an hour. The first month I moved here, in 1992, we had three major earthquakes in a row, and I was terrified."

Sam Scott golfingSam Scott [photo at right] , an avid golfer who lives off the fourth fairway of the local nine, got hooked on Shelter Cove after getting marooned. "We came up here in February [of 1986]. It had rained the week before and the week after. There was a slide in Briceland; the road was closed and we were trapped here for eight days -- in a little A-frame down there on the ocean. And we thoroughly enjoyed the eight days we were here. We were hooked. We came back in April and bought the lots."

Scott, 61, a retired engineer and operations manager for Hewlett Packard, and his wife (they have since divorced but he enjoys occasional visits from a daughter and granddaughter) paid $25,000 for the two lots on which they erected an impressive home with white walls, set off by panels of knotty cedar and a vaulted ceiling.

"It was a bargain," Scott recalls. "For any kind of coastal property, that was probably the most economical in California."

Ocean-front lots

"Shelter Cove is one of the few remaining places in California where you can buy a lot on the ocean," says Stephen Strawn, treasurer and tax collector for Humboldt County. "And there are some beautiful homes. [About] 20 years ago I actually sold at tax auctions some of these properties that houses now sit on, and they sold for as little as $4,000 or $5,000. Now these lots, when they are for sale, it's not unusual to ask $80,000 to $100,000 for the lot."

Sam Scott revels in the Shelter Cove life. "I've never been bored in Shelter Cove," he says. "There's always something to see -- planes coming in, and fishermen going out, always something going on in the ocean."

For sheer grandeur, there's nothing like the Ashbrook Inn, the bed and breakfast that Temple Ashbrook and Loretta Hyatt-Ashbrook built high on a hillside outside of Shelter Cove proper and overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Ashbrook, formerly a construction project manager in Los Angeles, built most of the three-level house himself, with the help of some high school students. Hyatt-Ashbrook, who grew up in Tulare County, has a degree in art from San Diego State University, and also taught interior design at the junior college level.

They enjoy being proprietors. "We have fun running this ourselves," Ashbrook said. "Meeting people is really delightful. We clean the bathrooms. I do the gardening. We do the cooking together, make the beds together.

"I enjoy seeing other people enjoying their stay," he adds. "I see them sometimes arrive a little tense, and very quickly they become quite relaxed. They feel at home here. The B&B can bring out a lot of skills about enjoying life."

Rates are a bit steep -- in the $160 to $180 range -- but that hasn't deterred people. "You put up a Web site and they just come," Hyatt-Ashbrook says.

Don't expect Walmart

Real estate broker Linda Yates goes out of her way to point out recent upgrades.

"Since I've been here," she says, "we've put in a brand new sewer plant, and the water is recycled now. We have three restaurants, plus the deli and the coffee shop. The golf course is looking great, the airport (runway) was just resealed. A lot of improvement."

One complaint she hears: the lack of a shopping center. "It's interesting to watch people when they come here. The men have a tendency to like it more out here than the women, I think, simply because of the outdoor activity, the remoteness. The [women] must be near a mall."

I can't wait to hear Cistaro's rebuttal. And the vivacious blond doesn't disappoint.

"People want to know: What do you have to entertain us?" She looks askance at the thought. She goes on: "Well, if you need to be entertained, you may not want to come here, because you have to be able to sit still and just let everything be around you."

Longtime Journal contributor George Ringwald lives in Eureka.

The battle that was
20 years ago, the Coastal Commission
laid down the law in Shelter Cove


You wouldn't know it today, but the swath of ocean-front land west of the Shelter Cove airstrip and Lower Pacific Drive was ground zero in a contentious battle 20 years ago. Vying against each other were the same two value systems so often at odds in current land use disputes: property rights and environmental protection.

At the center of the storm was the California Coastal Commission, created the decade before in part to rein in mammoth coastal developments like Shelter Cove. Aside from the fact that the 2,500-acre, 4,000-plus-home subdivision was dogged by design deficiencies from the start (see "The Shelter Cove Saga: From land scam to popular resort," Aug. 28), there was an additional problem: the developers had made no provision for public access to the rocky shoreline immediately west of the development.

That didn't seem like a big deal in the 1960s, when the subdivision was laid out and construction begun. But public access to California's coast got on everybody's radar screen with the passage of the Coastal Initiative in 1972 and the Coastal Act in 1976. In just a few years, the rules under which shoreline development could take place underwent a sea-change; land-use restrictions along the coast were much tougher than they were anywhere else in the state.

But what about coastal projects begun before the watershed events of the 1970s? What, in other words, about Shelter Cove?

The tough fact of life for the Coastal Commission was that its ace-in-the-hole -- rejecting a project altogether -- was of no use for already approved projects. But its regulatory powers could still be formidable. Under the terms of the Coastal Act, coastal counties had to put together "local coastal programs" governing development near the shore. By law, these planning documents had to incorporate the twin pillars of the Coastal Act, public access and restrictions on development. And by law, these programs could only be approved by the commission.

It is no accident that local coastal programs for the rest of Humboldt County were approved in 1983 while the program for the south part of the county's coast didn't get the commission's imprimatur until 1985. The county's initial submission for that stretch of coast was rejected by the commission -- in large part because of Shelter Cove.

The sticking point was the access issue, in particular the fact that if all of the parcels on the subdivision's westernmost edge got developed, the ocean would have been "walled off by private property," as Bob Merrill, a coastal commission staffer put it.

The commission's stand outraged the Shelter Cove Property Owner's Association, already beside itself because the commission was refusing to grant building permits until the county came forward with an acceptable planning document.

"They were stinkers," said Frances Aldridge -- still an association board member -- of the commission.

The stalemate was finally broken when Congressman Doug Bosco came through with a $1.5 million appropriation that enabled the state to buy out about 30 property owners who had not yet built on their land.

People were paid fair market value -- $30,000 to $40,000 per parcel. The county finally got its local coastal program for the south coast approved. And the commission was satisfied -- as much as it could be -- that there was at least some public access within the Shelter Cove subdivision.

Longtime Journal contributor George Ringwald contributed to this report.



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